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World Cup 2018: Brunt and Grigg return for N Ireland

Chris Brunt

Brunt suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury against Crystal Palace in March

Chris Brunt and Will Grigg are back in Northern Ireland’s squad for their crucial World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan on 11 November.

Brunt, 31, missed the Euro 2016 tournament because of a serious knee injury sustained while playing for West Bromwich Albion in February.

The wide midfielder returned to first-team action in West Brom’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham on 15 October.

Wigan’s Grigg asked to be left out of recent squads for personal reasons.

He recently became a father and was not involved for the first three qualifiers.

Watford defender Craig Cathcart, who has yet to play in the World Cup qualifiers because of a groin injury, is still missing.

Northern Ireland, who host Croatia in a friendly four days after the Azerbaijan match, have four points from their opening three qualifiers.

Michael O’Neill’s men are third in Group C, three points behind Azerbaijan who have made a good start to the campaign.

Attempting to qualify for a major tournament for the first time, Azerbaijan have beaten Norway and San Marino and most recently drew 0-0 away to the Czech Republic.

Northern Ireland also drew in Prague and beat San Marino, but fell to a 2-0 defeat in Germany last time out.

Brunt’s last international appearance was in NI’s final Euro qualifier away to Finland on 1 October, 2015.

The match against Azerbaijan could prove pivotal in Northern Ireland’s attempt to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

“With seven points from nine, they have had a good start and not conceded a goal,” O’Neill added of Azerbaijan.

“They are not a team that is going to come and attack us, they will be well-organised and we expect it will be very difficult. When we look at the group, these are the games that we feel will be key leading into where we finish.”

Northern Ireland then face Croatia in a friendly at Windsor Park on 15 November and O’Neill has already hinted at rotating his side, so Tom Flanagan and Matthew Lund could be considered for their first caps.

Northern Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: M McGovern (Norwich City), A Mannus (St Johnstone), T Carson (Hartlepool United)

Defenders: A Hughes (Kerala Blasters), G McAuley (West Brom), J Evans (West Brom), C Brunt (West Brom), R McGivern (Sgrewsbury Town), C McLaughlin (Fleetwood Town), L Hodson (Rangers), T Flanagan (Burton Albion)

Midfielder: S Davis (Southampton), N McGinn (Aberdeen), O Norwood (Brighton), C Evans (Blackburn Rovers), J Ward (Burton Albion), S Ferguson (Millwall), S Dallas (Leeds United), P McNair (Sunderland), P Paton (St Johnstone), M Lund (Rochdale).

Strikers: K Lafferty (Norwich City), J Magennis (Charlton Athletic), C Washington (QPR), W Grigg (Wigan Athletic)

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/37834726